One of my fondest memories of growing up in Jakarta are the times I spent parked on the side of the road, perched on the front seat of my car, door ajar, with a bowl of hot, freshly cooked chicken noodles (mie ayam) on my lap. It wasn’t just the incredibly immersive palette of flavors a good bowl of mie ayam had, but it was that I could easily pull up on the side of the road next to a street food vendor and have one of the best, most memorable meals one can have.
Street food, of course, is not unique to any one country. It is an idea that Netflix’s Street Food series aims to bring to light. Produced by David Gelb and Brian McGinn (the same producers as Netflix’s Chef’s Table), Street Food shares the idea that across the globe the myriad of wonderful foods, personalities, and historical culture can be found around the corner, in the unlikeliest of places, made by the unlikeliest of people. This is the series’ strength. Street Food Vol 1. spends its nine episodes across Asia, from Singapore to Yogyakarta, from Osaka to Delhi, exploring the rich foods you find on their streets. But the strongest connection you’ll find is with that of the people profiled in the episodes. Sure, the food is irresistible, but it is the very human stories this series profile that make it worthwhile.
We meet Grace in Chiayi, Taiwan, who had dreams of escaping small city life, only to find herself back home running her family’s street food restaurant that specializes in fish head soup. There’s is an inescapable sadness as Grace tells of her lost opportunity in the big city of Taipei, but we are overcome when she’s found happiness at home, expanding, modernizing, and running the business she’s known since she was a child. We meet Truoc in Ho Chi Minh City, who after a family tragedy, found it overwhelmingly difficult to find passion in her work. But a passion re-found when her hard work and perseverance enabled her son to attend university. In Seoul, there is Yoonsun Cho, whose incredible 11-year work as a street food seller at the market got her family out of bad debt, seeing her son attend culinary school, and seeing him take up a job at an upscale hotel. This is alongside stories like the purported-last ‘3 day 3 night goat stew’ chef on the planet (seeing how toxic and life-threatening this process is, it’s not hard to understand why). These are the stories that make this series interesting, and it takes cues from what we loved about Anthony Bourdain’s take on global food. He was not there just for the food, but he was there to understand, listen to, and discover the people, their histories and their cultures.
The cinematic Netflix production helps with the series’ presentation, but where it struggles is to find cohesion within the episodes. You get narrators for each episode, individuals who are locals or familiar with the food and culture, but as you hear the stories of the vendors, the production employs cheesy voice-overs that sound robotic. I would rather have let the vendors speak, in their natural tongues with subtitles instead (which strangely, they do at times). Another gripe is their instagramesque presentation of their signature dishes that give the show a less than genuine feel. It’s a shame because it takes away from the narrative of the vendors and takes viewers away from the on-the-street feel of the rest of the episodes.
It is, however, the vendors that ultimately make this series worth the venture. We often forget that behind the foods of the worlds, there are the people who make them, whose stories are just as rich and important as the foods they make.
I miss mie ayam, I miss sitting on the side of the road next to the gerobak (street food cart) while I stuff my face with the best tasting noodles you’ll find on the planet. Some days it is all I long for. But the next time I do find myself eating mie ayam on the side of the road, I’ll take a moment to appreciate the food, and the vendor whose life is as story-filled as the food they are making.
Street Food is streaming now on Netflix.
Make Dodgeball Great Again
Dodgeball is not an ‘unethical tool of oppression’ and to label it so is both ludicrous and dangerous. Have we lost our minds?
I remember it as if it was yesterday. The recently completed gym floor was crisp, clean, and squeaked with almost every step of the overpriced sneakers that graced it. Battle lines had been drawn and there I was, locked and loaded in the far right corner of the gym. I had scanned the battlefield ahead, and saw that the opposition numbers were dwindling- falling like the cannon fodder they were. My fellow combatants were more than capable, some in fact, excelled like this game was art, like it was real battle.
Then I saw my target, arms to her side, nervously looking across from her side of diminishing numbers. Her eyes screamed ‘fear’ (or maybe indifference, but in my mind, it was fear) and I knew that there was only one thing to do. I gripped the foam of the ball with a vengeful firmness, loaded my arm with the fury of a Nolan Ryan fastball and let loose. My memory says the sound of the noisy gym was broken, and that all the fellow combatants and fallen brethren fell silent, stopped and followed this one moment as the ball left my hand to its intended destination. It was a glorious moment. Glorious because unlike most times, the ball flew through the air with unmatched grace. Unlike most times I threw the ball, there was no deviation, no broken flight plan. And unlike most times, where I’d luckily hit my target on the leg, or on the arm, it zeroed in with laser-like precision and exploded itself right in Annie’s* face. Bullseye. Like a bird exploding from a Randy Johnson fastball.
Did I revel in the glory of that standstill moment? Was the brazen destruction of a fellow combatant as cinematically award-winning as a Spielberg movie? The truth is, that wasn’t the case. Amongst the fleeting chaos of the game, no one saw. No one stopped and watched my moment, and that in reality, it was a split second that remains animated only in mind. I recoiled in shock, partly because it was not my intention to hit someone in the face, no matter how unintentionally glorious it was. But partly because my gut instinct was to slink away into the back of the pack to hide unseen- like a cowardly saboteur responsible for the wreckage, eager to hide from the blame. I didn’t even look back at what I had done.
I don’t remember who won this particular game (safe to say it wasn’t Annie), but it was all part and parcel to the wonderful school-time game of dodgeball.
One that has come under scrutiny, and under the threat, by the researchers discussed in this National Post article, who have labeled it an “unethical tool of oppression”. With such hyperbole, you’d think they were talking about a population who lived under a military dictatorship, or a segment of that population threatened during mass rioting. Not surprisingly, I lived through both of the latter, and no, dodgeball is nothing like either. They are talking about dodgeball- a mostly harmless game (unless you are Annie) played by children during recess and PE class.
The article goes on to say how dodgeball, along with other forms of games played during PE class are sports of “sport of violence, exclusion and degradation” and that dodgeball in particular, is “not just unhelpful to the development of kind and gentle children who will become decent citizens of a liberal democracy. It is actively harmful to this process.” Sounds like it was written by someone picked last in gym class.
We can argue endlessly about the participation-trophy culture that has permeated the discourse of children’s sports (they couldn’t even settle on a winner at the Spelling Bee). But the truth is, I fear greatly for the future of democracy if we equate the game of dodgeball to actual, real oppression. Sure, Annie probably doesn’t like dodgeball all that much, but I too was hit plenty on the dodgeball court. Like I was on the basketball court. But it’s all part of growing some thick skin in this very real world where people don’t throw soft, red balls at you. The truth is, most kids would probably benefit from getting hit in the face with a dodgeball a few times, it’ll be good for them in the long run. This I’m certain of.
I had a lot of fun playing dodgeball as a kid. It’s an absolute shame that there are “scholars” and “researchers” who equate it to very real life issues this world faces. Teaching kids that life isn’t fair from a young age is a good thing. Participation-trophy culture is not. I don’t need a Ph.D. to know so.
Dodgeball teaches you a great deal in a simple game. And if dodgeball supposedly teaches children lessons of democracy, then I sure as hell would want the future leaders of whatever world we venture towards to be able to dodge a wrench when someone throws one at their heads.
*Annie is not her real name. C’mon, how much of an asshole do you think I am?